Chasing movie money produces Hollywood bunk

By Jennifer McCarthy

Test your Canadian film I.Q.:

1) The Academy of Canadian

Cinema & Television hosts an awards show every year to honour achievements in Canadian film. What is the name of the statue they give to the winners?

A) Gemini

B) Oscar

C) Oscar’s little brother

D) Genie

2) Every year an award is given out to the film that makes the most money at the Canadian box office. Who won last year for the top grossing Canadian film?

A) Titanic

B) Crash

C) AirBud

D) The Sweet Hereafter

3) Don McKellar has become the new poster boy for Canadian cinema. Which of the following films was he NOT involved with?

A) Highway 61

B) Last Night

C) The Red Violin

D) Dance Me Outside

4) When the award show aired on Feb. 4, the academy gave McKellar the Claude Jutra Award — named after the pioneer filmmaker who died in 1987. What defining Canadian film was he best known for?

A) Goin’ Down the Road

B) Mon Oncle Antoine

C) La Guerre des tuques

D) Porky’s

So, how well do you think you scored? If your answer is “incredibly bad,” you’re probably not alone. On average, Canadian films reach two to three per cent of all movie screens across the country and their budgets, including marketing and promotion, are one-twentieth of the average Hollywood flick.

Because Canadian filmmakers have never had access to the money and audiences that American movie moguls do, great talents are wasted and great stories go untold.

At least, that’s what the Department of Canadian Heritage is telling us in a report by its Feature Film Advisory Committee. The report recognizes the importance of Canadian film to national identity and explains how it plans to cultivate culture with a series of taxes and quotas designed to ensure both production money and screens for Canadian films.

But will this really solve the problem? Canadian film, especially English-language film, has evolved in a microcosm of artists, critics and die-hard fans. Its banishment to specialty theatres and elitist audiences by bigger budget American movies has resulted in some very intelligent, artistic and creative filmmaking. Atom Egoyan’s work is a prime example.

Canada creates film as art rather than entertainment and does it very well. But it isn’t the kind of stuff that attracts the audiences that made Armageddon a blockbuster hit.

Let’s face it: we’ve been force-fed American culture all our lives. We’ve been raised on movies with unstoppable heroes, corny love stories and happy endings. That’s what we expect when we plunk down in the theatre with a bucket of popcorn on our laps.

Just putting Canadian films onto movie screens will not necessarily get people to watch them. I mean, last year’s big hit, The Sweet Hereafter, was about a busload of school children drowning in a frozen lake — hardly the “feel-good hit of the year.”

To make matters worse, part of the Heritage department’s new plan is to give funding grants to filmmakers based on box-office receipts and international success.

This is just asking for trouble. Forcing Canadian filmmakers to compete with Hollywood in the area of ticket stubs and mass appeal can only lead to a watering down of the fearlessness and honesty that defines our national cinema.

Expecting Canadian movies to live up to the revenues and appeal of the average Hollywood flick is silly and unrealistic.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting Canadian filmmakers as artists, but supporting them with the expectation of box-office hits means leaving the door wide-open for the same kind of mediocrity that’s currently destroying American film.

Oh, and as for the quiz? The answers are as follows: 1) D – although it used to be called an Etrog, 2) C – my point exactly, 3) None of the above – that guy is everywhere these days, and 4) B – it was re-released last year. Did you run out to see it?